2007 - 2021

Good Scots

The long tail of Anglo-British Nationalism which erupted into consciousness in 2017 seemed to come out of nowhere. But the signs were visible for a long time.

A sense of national decline (‘forty years of hurt’), identity collapse, economic uncertainty, military ridicule and a political leadership unable to innovate so increasingly reliant on Blame Culture Politics have combined to form a fatal narrative of decline and decay. Central to this is a myth-making about a Great and Exceptional and Glorious past, from which ‘we’, the English/Anglo-British/British have all tragically fallen.

As the true nature of the key body lobbying for the Union in Scotland is exposed, this notion of a collective British self with somehow common interests is blown away. But the emergence of English identity, forms and aspirations is only one part of the equation. The other is the explicit denial or contempt towards the other constituent parts of the ‘partnership of equals’.

Back in 2009 the Economist ran a piece by their ‘Bagehot’ character. Now the Economist editors have form on this with their Skintland mapping and regular trolling. They seem to combine super-serious economics with casual xenophobia. He asked, comparing Tim Henman and Andy Murray: “Which Scots are good Scots?”

He continued:

“…And Tim, of course, was English. Very English. His manners, his parents and his partner were all egregiously English. Andy, on the other hand, is Scottish. Extremely Scottish.

But being Scottish is not always a barrier to being loved south of the border. Look at Susan Boyle, the unlikely talent-show star. She is Scottish, but somehow in a good way: plain but passionate; modest but impressive. On the other hand, consider that other unloved Scot, Gordon Brown. For many English people, he seems to invoke all the wrong sort of Scottish associations: dour, unreliable with money, clannish. Mr Murray, I suspect, with his unsmiling demeanour, is in this category too.

But what exactly is it that distinguishes a palatable Scot from an offputting one? Accent? Deracination? Is it their avowed or assumed attitude to the union or the Barnett formula? Their threateningness? Their challenge or conformity to Celtic stereotypes? Their gender?

I suppose the absence of passion might just be something to do with the fact that Mr Murray really is very good at tennis. To be that good at anything is, to some English tastes, frankly a little vulgar.”

Now this is of course just the sort of attitude that drips through much of English political discourse and it’s been joined more recently with virulently anti-Irish rhetoric as the harsh reality of the self-inflicted Brexit shambles hits home.

You could, and probably should, just ignore this drivel, rather than dredge it up from the murky past of some unimportant publications unfunny diarist. But the trajectory away from an (always dubious) notion of an inclusive outward-looking ‘Britishness’ to a more toxic Englishness is worth charting.

It’s a new form that is oddly restrained. There is of course no real movement for an English Parliament, nor other institutions. They no more wanted to ‘take back control’ than they believe in ‘sovereignty’. There is of course very good reason for this. There is no need and no motivation. So you have this odd beast of a new Nationalism that wants, instead of its own self-expression or self-determination, to restrain, possess and control others.

English nationalism doesn’t want England, it wants Britain.

This may become increasingly uncomfortable to the semi-trained Brit-Scots who defend the current arrangements faithfully and who cling to the wreckage not of Empire but of some sort of progressive Britain, we could all name them.

As the Scotland in Union revelations spill into the public domain – the reality of the political forces holding Britain together being a mixture of feudal power and the violence of finance capitalism is laid open.

Independence activists will have to face this.

This ‘revelation’ about the true nature of the battle at hand has many facets.

As Scott Nelson writes:

“The Tory supporters defending Toby Young for labelling disabled students as “functionally illiterate troglodytes” and working class students as “small and vaguely deformed” are the same pieces of shit who defend the Tories for laughing and braying during parliamentary debates.”

It’s not gone unnoticed by Mhairi Black in her first experience of Westminster.

The shocking appointment of Toby Young makes sense though. This is a system that shouts about meritocracy and fetishises ‘hard work’, but also awards corporate failure and creates a cushion for its rich and feckless.

As ‘Bagehot’ put it: “To be that good at anything is, to some English tastes, frankly a little vulgar.”

If you’re in any doubt of the truth of this, just watch David Davis.

He doesn’t care that he’s useless because… because England… because Britain.

Bagehot isn’t isolated, this is’t unusual. Read Jeremy Clarkson calling Gordon Brown a cunt, or Richard Litttlejohn, Rod Liddle, Katie Hopkins or Kelvin Mackenzie comparing Ross Barkley to a Gorilla or a hundred other pint-sized pundits gobbing up nationalist bigotry day in day out.

And so we come to today’s Guardian trying desperately to play catch-up with our constitutional crisis.

The editorial writes:

“Mrs May always refers, for example, to the Belfast agreement of 1998, which is the Northern Irish unionist term for what nationalists (and New Labour) always called the Good Friday agreement. Perhaps that is why she, and many Brexiters, misunderstand so badly how it changed the nature of sovereignty in Northern Ireland.

Yet the most common and most revealing, because most insulting, misuse of language remains the elision in the conservative English mind between England, Britain and the UK. When the Daily Mail ran its angry pro-Brexit front page during the referendum campaign, it was headlined “Who will speak for England?”. Buried away inside the paper was a clarification of sorts: “By England … we mean the whole of the United Kingdom.” As Mr Barnett puts it, England-Britain is a “post-empire hybrid … English within and British without”. The English aspect is often whimsical and pastoral; the British aspect exterior-facing and imposing. “The sweet and the violent are attached.”

To which you could respond with an enthusiatic ‘tick’ or  aslow-hand clap, depending on how far your hangover had subsided. But the paper concludes:

“…there are many things that form part of the answer that can be begun, often in quite small grassroots ways as opposed to grand Napoleonic ones. These Islands, a group that launched in 2017, is one promising approach, based on the crucial recognition that this is an issue that civil society should engage and reason with across borders. But big things will need doing too, in particular by grasping the nettle of England’s needs for its own forms of self-determination and recognition within the larger UK whole. The departure of parliament from Westminster, if it happens, also offers a huge opportunity to rethink the nature of the second chamber along more federal lines. London-based media and other professions need to think with fresh minds too. The turn of the year should be a moment of collective resolution to examine whether and how our union of nations can be renewed most richly.”

The problem of course, is that having read the Scotland in Union spreadsheets the facts stand in opposition to this strange liberal vision.

Parliament is not leaving London.

The second chamber is not being ‘re-thought’ on ‘more federal lines’. That doesn’t even mean anything.


“London-based media and other professions need to think with fresh minds too” is the sort of vacuous empty utterance just perfect for well-meaning New Years Day self-deception.

As Irvine Welsh wrote back in 2015:

“The main problem is a variation on an old one: if the English people don’t make their voices heard, the establishment will do it on their behalf…. That is a given constant in English social life: the voice of power will always make itself heard through the mainstream media, even –especially- when it has nothing fresh or interesting to say. And they will always assume to speak for England, but of course they don’t, they only speak for themselves. The ideological battle for Britain is over.”

The problem is not that Scottish nationalism doesn’t have a trajectory. The problem is that English nationalism doesn’t have one.



Comments (22)

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  1. MBC says:

    The impression I have had about the SIU dump and comments the leaker has apparently made to Wings, is that it has split along left-right lines. It has finally dawned on the Labour and LD elements that they are just useful idiots for what is an elite project to keep the people of Scotland down, and that the idea of Britain is a chimera also intended to keep us in our place.

    1. Mungo says:

      MBC, on the contrary, Scottish Labour and the other unionist MSPs are no more than career politicians. They have no interest in anything but staying on the gravy train as long as they can.

  2. Gordon McShean says:

    Perhaps a re-creation of some sort of an “acceptable Britain” might be found with a federation (with parliament having sent out of London) with its capital collated somewhere located near the Scottish border and perhaps closed to the Irish Sea…? Is that a dream…?

    1. Rab Campbell says:

      Yes, both a dream and a silly idea.

      An acceptable britain is unacceptable.

      Why does and would Scotland wish to be saddled to the sad man of Europe in a union that can never be of equals. England and uk is currently being run by a bunch of crooks and looney tunes who think they can reassemble empire.

      The West Lothian question should never have existed, whereas the English question has always been with us!

  3. J Galt says:

    And their ceaseless myth-making continues with “Darkest Hour”.

  4. Gordon Benton says:

    An excellent article; an interesting take on the subject of ‘what is it takes to be a convinced English(wo)man in today’s word’.
    You mentioned that the English do not have a clear Nationalism trajectory (comparing this to Scotland’s present, very obvious independence path). It may not be ‘clear’, yet, but what else is Brexit? Is this some devilish Establishment plot, leading the ignorant masses by the nose? I suggest that it goes a bit deeper than that.

  5. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    It is your final sentence, Mr Small, about ‘English nationalism’ that gets to the heart of this question.

    It has long seemed to me that very many people who live in England, irrespective of their place of origin, have no clear idea of what ‘being English’ entails. There are many symbols, such as the increasingly ubiquitous union flag, and bulldogs, and John Bull, etc. but these are not recognised by many as ‘British’, i.e. ‘British’ as something different to ‘English’.

    Many of the most fervent unionists in Scotland and Ireland, can identify, validly, that they are Scots or Irish AND British: they recognise that there is a difference. They have a sense of Scotland and Ireland as not just different geographical locations, but also places which have distinctive histories and cultures, and that these histories and cultures intertwine in aspects with those of England and of a United Kingdom, which is not a synonym for England.

    By deploying the principle of charity, I can see that the concluding section of the Guardian editorial (with its naive conception of ‘These Islands’) is fumbling towards this idea of difference. But, it is only doing it as a way of maintaining the United Kingdom and its institutions. It is some concessions which might decorate the gable end, but will keep the house substantially unchanged. The Guardian and its staff, particularly the senior ones, are over-represented with English public school, Oxford-Cambridge (perhaps Durham, Warwick, Bristol, St Andrews, Edinburgh) graduates who see the England of the ruling classes as their ‘Britain’. When it ceased being the Manchester Guardian, it severed its links with that other England, which existed in the dynamism of places like Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds, Nottingham, Norwich, Bristol etc and the cultures of these places and their multi-ethnic peoples. It also separated itself from that other, more populous London, which coexists with their London, the London which lives in places like Grenfell Tower, the London which, with its alter ego, constitute one of the most unequal places in Europe.

    Their England is NOT the England of the Guardian, the rest of the media, of Whitehall, of Westminster, of the private schools , of the ‘top’ universities, of the well-heeled communities. For them, there is only a tattered, gaudy, insubstantial Britain, badly cracked and frayed, but no clear vision of another. For them they are in the position Gramsci described as being in a world that is broken but where a new one is struggling to be born. Perhaps, Yeats’ ‘terrible beauty’ will be born.

  6. John O'Dowd says:

    The most astute and important observation in this excellent article is this:

    “English nationalism doesn’t want England, it wants Britain.”

    England has never been big enough for the English ego and the concept of English exceptionalism. just as Saxony wasn’t big enough for the Saxons; Angein/Angle for the Angles, nor Normandy for the Normans. Sure, the red on the world map was never red enough or expansive enough for them.

    This is a fusion of peoples with an unstoppable urge to expand and dominate – which is why membership the EU was never going to work – not with the original Saxons and, more historically salient – ‘Prussians’ in control over there! The atavistic memory of a displaced tribe is long and unforgiving!

    English exceptionalism (and its American descendent) could never accept a situation where it was not in charge – they can never be members of a club where they are not the boss class – and have created (historical and continuing) global imperial havoc to fulfil that Volk imperative. Wales Ireland and Scotland were just the start – and are now just about all they have left.

    So now they retrench – and in doing so will need – even more – to control their shrunken horizons – the more diminished the territory, the greater the need to be GREAT Britain (meaning England).

    Delusion is reality – the plague of the narcissist.

    Any idea that such a massively uncontainable, egotistical idea of nationhood, can encompass even a hint of federation among lesser breeds (especially the vanquished Gaels and Celts) is deluded in the extreme. Hence the apoplexy at that uppity Mick Government daring, DARING, to challenge their vastly superiors. Oh how that mask slipped!

    The loss of any restraining influence after Brexit will only harden that supremely atavistic attitude – especially when the dire economic consequences of that Little Englander folly start to bite.

    The Scotland in Union data dump provides ample evidence of the true nature of this so-called ‘union’ of so-called ‘equals’.

    I am absolutely certain that this priceless asset is now in safe hands, and will be used wisely.

  7. JOHN MC GURK says:

    Surely it cannot be wrong to want better for Scotland and to distance ourselves from this parcel of dead beats in Westminster . We are trying to create a more caring society where everyone matters where we are judged on an equal basis not by the school tie you might have on . And have a properly
    funded health service public services instead of aircraft carrier’s and Trident missiles

  8. Marian says:

    England’s downfall will be the consequence of its delusional belief that it is still running an empire.

  9. SleepingDog says:

    If you are going to argue for a hierarchical society on the basis of virtue (who is good or bad), then in the UK traditionally the ceiling is set by the hereditary (or usurping) monarch. This requires invention of supporting virtues not available to the same degree by lower ranks. One of these is operationally-successful hypocrisy: you can be a world-class mass murderer and war criminal as leader of the nation’s armed forces, and as long as you stay undeposed, you can still get away with it. Your ‘virtue’ is enhanced if you can sustain your reputation into the history books.

    The lower orders must then display different degrees of deference, although disloyalty can again be a virtue if you get away with it, possibly by changing to a master whose fortunes are on the rise. Deference itself must be disguised, so foreign words like “kow-tow” are used to obscure a domestic habit. Andy Murray has presumably knelt in submission to the monarch to beg his imperial awards, showing the proper virtue of deference to rank.

    A critical problem with such structure is its moral downward pull, setting a very low bar and promoting conspiracy towards vice, corruption and the savaging of good examples or alternate systems favouring meritocratic, egalitarian or fluid societies (for example). Humanity, geography, history have to be divided up, reinvented and ranked to suit.

    The current role of Scotland, at least to backers of such a UK hierarchy, is to be a dominion. Its inhabitants subjects. It resources available. Its culture dependent. Whose good is that?

  10. Crubag says:

    England is a more complex place than this article pre-supposes. The referendum result illustrates that – metropolitan England voted Remain, regional England voted Leave. That was counter-establishment.

    I think the regional assembly in the North East of England was also rejected as it was seen as more of the same, government from above, rather than people taking control.

    And the flourishing of the St George’s Cross in place of the Union flag (with the past assumption that Union flag = England) shows there is a more developed understanding of what it is to be English.

    Quite what it might lead to is another matter.

    1. “regional England voted Leave. That was counter-establishment”

      In what possible universe was voting for Nigel Farage Michael Gove and Boris Johnson ‘counter-establishment’?

      1. Crubag says:

        The one where the establishment didn’t get its preferred outcome.

        Do you see Farage getting a knighthood ever? Unlike Clegg, an establishment figurr who must have lost every referendum he ever fought.

        1. Yes the anti-establishment run by Hedge Fund Managers, stockbrokers, backed by the five richest people in Britain and the Tory Party won! Congratulations. & Blue Passports too!!

  11. William Davidson says:

    When I voted “leave” I wasn’t voting for Nigel Farage, Michael Gove or Boris Johnson, I voted after long and careful consideration and from a left of centre perspective. In the same way I presume many of those who voted “remain” weren’t voting for David Cameron, George Osborne, or the I.M.F.. I think it would be difficult to argue with the thesis that the vast majority of the British establishment were in favour of “remain.”

    1. Stewart Cameron says:

      Look at the rest of the field, SNP, greens, liberals, majority of labour and moderate tories voted to remain.

      You have sided with the right wing nuts and racists, that may not make you either a right wing nut or a racist, but it leaves you open to critiism on the company you keep!

      1. Alf Baird says:

        “You have sided with the right wing nuts and racists,”

        Ditto ‘No’ voters in 2014, who gave away Scotland’s sovereignty to these same people, to do with our nation and people as they please, committing us to English Tory rule, worsening UK austerity/debt, to brexit, and to whatever else comes next, which we can be assured will not be pleasant. Forget the actual brexit vote, as far as Scotland is concerned this is all due to the 55% in Scotland who voted ‘No’ to independence in 2014, the people who gave away my nation.

      2. Crubag says:

        The party establishments did (though the Tories were officially neutral), but “their” voters didn’t necessarily follow the party line. The Leave vote in Scotland was 38% – which was quite sufficient to stall indy2, given how narrow the polls remain, and about 25% of past SNP voters voted Leave.

        At the moment, it no longer makes political sense to link independence to EU membership.

        There is more complicated polling that seems to show voters moving between Yes/No, and Leave/Remain, and they more or less cancel each other out. But I don’t think an indy2 is likely to be called until the polling shows Yes sitting around 60%. That will need to be post-Brexit.

  12. w.b.robertson says:

    I voted Leave. And my decision is reinforced these days by the simple fact that Tony Blair and the rest of the UK establishment are still campaigning to keep their snouts in the EU trough.

  13. AndyS says:

    Quite possibly there are plenty of people who see “British” as an inclusive identity and “English” as a more exclusive one. England and in particular it’s big cities have a degree of ethnic and cultural diversity that is unknown in most of Scotland.

    As for the comments about Gordon Brown – the majority of English voters kept him and his fellow Scot,Tony Blair, in power for 13 years. Personally I would have preferred Robin Cook…

  14. Ottomanboi says:

    How often have you heard the phrase ‘England is an island nation’? Behind this lurks centuries of psycho-political-cultural appropriation of the so-called island of Britain as a rightful possession. Myths of King Arthur and his court with vassal kings in attendance from Scotland, Wales and Cornwall fed and still feeds the imperialist imagination. The anglo-norman ‘conquest’ of Wales and Ireland and repeated attempts to annex Scotland which England finally achieved with our unrepresentative parliament’s approval stoke the hubris of a chosen people whose destiny is to rule.
    They of course may think what they like about themselves and their ‘rôle’ but that we Scots have been instruments, enablers, apologists and dare one say ‘pimps’ for their worldview does expose us to the contempt which many in the Establishment are given to dishing out to the minions.
    As we are well aware, the day of the kowtowing North British lickspittle isn’t yet quite over.

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